Alcatraz is arguably the most famous prison in the world.  The most dangerous prisoners were kept here because it would be so difficult to escape.  The prison is on an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.  Although I had visited many years ago, I decided to go again for two reasons.  First, Russell hadn’t been and secondly, you can do an Alcatraz night tour.  While you can’t stay overnight at Alcatraz, a night tour would give me a different perspective, and I was surprised how much I learned.

Alcatraz Night Tour Tickets – Get Them ASAP

Alcatraz is one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco.  I must stress that it is important to buy your Alcatraz tickets in advance especially if you want to do the night tour.  I would recommend buying them at least a month ahead of time.  There are only two Alcatraz boats for the night tours and they only do them Thursday through Monday.  The Alcatraz night tour does have special programs that are not available during the day too.  Tickets for the Alcatraz night tour cost $50.50 per adult while the day tour is $43.50.  I also wanted to do the night tour because I thought the atmosphere would be better.

You get a lovely view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge as you dock at Alcatraz. - "Spend One Night at Alcatraz" - Two Traveling Texans

You get a lovely view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge as you dock at Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Ferry

You are told to arrive at the dock early and when we got there it was already a pretty long line.   Of course, everyone that had a ticket was able to get on the boat but people want to line up early to get the best seats.  Honestly, I wouldn’t worry too much about that.  Pretty soon after the boat left the dock we headed to the outside portion of the deck for the best views.  

The boat took off just as the sun was starting to set.  It was a clear day so we had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which we also rode bikes across the next day.  The tour guide pointed out landmarks and gave us some information about the tour, including the times the boats would leave.  The boat then circled the island so that we could see it from all sides before docking at Alcatraz island.

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You can see the prison building at the top of the hill as the boat approaches the dock. - "Spend One Night at Alcatraz"

You can see the prison building at the top of the hill as the boat approaches the dock.

Walking up to Alcatraz Prison

We had been warned that the walk from the dock to the prison was steep.  They did have a tram to take those with mobility issues up.  It was steep but not terrible.  The sun was quickly setting and it already felt a bit eerie being on Alcatraz at night.

We stopped at a couple of points along the way for brief talks from the park ranger and it wasn’t too long before we were standing right outside the prison.  The park ranger then went over the Alcatraz night tour schedule.  While there were several sessions that sounded interesting, the schedule was not written anywhere so it was hard to remember.  We just decided we would play it by ear.

One of the aisles inside Alcatraz. We were lucky to catch it empty. - "Spend One Night at Alcatraz" - Two Traveling Texans

One of the aisles of prison cells inside Alcatraz. We were lucky to catch it empty.

Inside Alcatraz

We entered the prison and picked up our audio guides.  I should say this audio guide is definitely one of the best audio guides I have experienced.  They really did a good job of sharing the personal stories of the prisoners and guards.  Plus, they pointed out historical spots inside Alcatraz like the cells of famous inmates.

The solitary confinement cells in Alcatraz. - " Spend One Night at Alcatraz"

The solitary confinement cells in Alcatraz.

Special Talks Included in the Alcatraz Night Tour

The audio guide for our Alcatraz evening tour finished in the cafeteria.   A park ranger announced there would be a talk happening soon, so we decided we should stay and see what it was about.  It turned out to be about the Native American occupation of Alcatraz.  I had no idea that Native Americans had occupied the island as a form of protest against the government taking their land.  

The occupation lasted 14 months, from November 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971.  To get the Native Americans to leave, the government cut off power to the island, but some were still determined to stay.  Later, a fire from an unknown cause broke out and more left.  Finally, the government forcefully removed the last 15 people.

The next Alcatraz guided tour we attended was about the infamous escape from Alcatraz on June 11, 1962, which inspired the movie Escape from Alcatraz.  We met the park ranger outside and she explained the elaborate plan.  Then she pointed to the roof where the prisoners escaped.  They were never found, so they are presumed dead.

A dramatization so that you can see what cells would have looked like. - " Spend One Night at Alcatraz"

A dramatization so that you can see what cells would have looked like and how the guards could have been fooled.

Short Film About Alcatraz History

Then we headed back down the hill and caught a short film in a building close to the dock.  The film was interesting because it talked about the children that grew up on Alcatraz.  I had never thought that there would be children on Alcatraz, but guards did live on the island with their families.  It was interesting to hear from the now adults who had spent their childhood on the island.  They didn’t think it was unusual and they thought it was a great place to grow up.

After about 3 hours on Alcatraz Island, it was time to get on the boat and head back to San Francisco.  By now, it was completely dark and a little chilly, so we just sat inside the ferry and enjoyed the ride.  Spending the night at Alcatraz is definitely something we won’t soon forget.   Check out our Alcatraz video tour to see more.

Alcatraz Behind the Scenes Tour

Recently, a new tour option for Alcatraz Island has been introduced.  With the Alcatraz Behind the Scenes Tour, you get to do a two-hour guided small group tour of Alcatraz that covers areas not included on the cell house audio tour or other regular ranger tours.   You get to see a variety of off the beaten path areas of Alcatraz Island.  The Behind the Scenes Tour of Alcatraz varies daily depending on weather, construction, and even the birds.  Destinations covered may include the New Industries Building, the Officers’ Row Gardens, the D Block Upper Levels, the Hospital, A Block, Citadel, and the Chapel.

There is a lot of walking up steep hills and even some steep stairs to climb during this tour.  In some cases, those with mobility issues would only be able to see areas through photos and video.  Additionally, due to the duration, children must be at least 12 to go on the Behind the Scenes Tour.  After completing the small group tour, the Behind the Scenes Tour group would join the Night Tour for the audio tour and Ranger talks.

Have you been to Alcatraz Island?  Did you do the Alcatraz day or night tour? I think the best Alcatraz tour is the one at night.  What do you think?


Expert Tips for Your Alcatraz Night Tour

  • Book your Alcatraz tickets in advance before the tours sell out.
  • Try to take advantage on some of the talks that are offered in addition to the audio tour.
  • Even in the summer, it will be chilly at night, so be sure to bring a jacket.
  • If you are looking for other things to do while in San Francisco, you may want to try biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring Golden Gate Park, or visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The Weekly Postcard

We are happy to co-host the Weekly Postcard Linkup.  Everyone is invited to join us and share their travel blog posts here beginning at 12 p.m. (PST) / 8 p.m. (GMT) Friday March 17th.  If you would like a reminder email, you can sign up to get one here.

The instructions are below, but if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us.  You can also check out last week’s posts here. Happy Travels!

Two Traveling Texans